How to sparkle with biodegradable natural glitter

As a mum to a five and two-year old, I’ve seen my fair share of glitter. I’m no stranger to opening an innocent-enough looking folded drawing from preschool – only to realise a second too late that it’s actually a glitter-bomb in disguise!

While this well-loved craft supply can add festive sparkle and shine, as we learn more about microplastics and their impact on the environment we’re also learning how those tiny, shiny bits of plastic glitter are sticking around long after the craft is forgotten. Opting for eco, biodegradable and natural glitter options is the solution.

The problem with plastic glitter

Most commercial glitter is made of teeny, tiny chopped up pieces of coated plastic. While this means it stays shiny for a long time, sticks to just about anything and is very cheap to produce, it sadly also means that when it gets into our environment (which all glitter eventually does either down the drain or when it gets thrown into landfill) it acts like any other microplastic and causes some big problems.

In our waterways, microplastics act as a sponge for harmful chemicals like PCB’s and are easily ingested by fish and other sea critters who mistake them for food – which means they end up in humans too if the fish are caught and eaten. Keeping glitter on land isn’t much better either; the tiny plastic flakes are unlikely to break down in landfill for hundreds of years, and items covered in glitter like paintings or cards can’t be recycled.

Some scientists and environmentalists are so concerned that there have been calls to ban plastic glitter along with the ban on plastic microbeads used in many cosmetic products.

The natural and biodegradable glitter options

Just because traditional glitter has some short-comings, doesn’t mean we have to give it up. Here are three ways you can sparkle with biodegradable, natural glitter and still indulge your kids (and your) crafty, creative side:

1. MAKE NATURAL GLITTER

While it’s difficult to replicate the metallic sparkle of plastic glitter, a fun and easy homemade project is to make natural and biodegradable glitter with salt. Thoroughly mix a small amount of salt (table or rock salt both work – the finer the salt, the finer the finished product) with a few drops of food colouring of your choice and dry it out for 10-15 mins in a low oven. Done! Natural glitter created. You can make a range of colours and textures for your little one to experiment with, and it’s much easier to clean up!

Another popular homemade replacement is to invest in some decorative hole punchers and set your kids to work making natural ‘glitter’ confetti out of leaves and dried flower petals. This has the added bonus of getting the kids outside to select their natural materials, and the fun of letting them hole punch to their hearts content! Plus, you know all the scraps can go straight back in the garden or compost bin. You could also try sprinkling the beautiful fine blossoms of a red bottlebrush or pink lilly pilly flower direct onto your craft as a natural ‘glitter’.

2. CHOOSE GLITTER ALTERNATIVES

Community Early Learning Australia (CELA) has a great, simple guide to glitter alternatives. An interesting point they make is that using glitter is decorative rather than creative. In other words, anyone can slap some glue on paper and sprinkle on glitter – but what if we encouraged our kids (and ourselves) to try and be a bit more imaginative? Where an activity or craft calls for embellishment like glitter, could you use different coloured or patterned paper instead? Water colours? Stencilling with metallic pencils? Give your creativity a little space to think outside the glittery box and who knows what you’ll come up with?

3. BUY BIODEGRADABLE & NATURAL GLITTER

Eco glitter! If you really can’t do without it (and tbh, sometimes we all need a little sparkle) there are a growing number of brands online supplying eco-friendly, natural glitter that’s biodegradable. Most are made from natural Eucalyptus cellulose and are readily compostable even in the waste or water stream. A quick Google search will bring up a range of great Aussie brands bringing natural glitter to life.

(Editor’s note: updated 16th October 2020 – Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge found that even biodegradable or ‘eco glitter’ can have a similar impact on the environment as conventional Polyethylene terephthalate (PET plastic) glitter, and could be causing ecological damage to rivers and lakes. Alternative ‘eco-glitters’ are usually made from either modified regenerated cellulose (MRC) sourced from eucalyptus trees then coated with aluminium, or mica – a mineral that breaks up into very thin sheets and is primarily used as a ‘glitter’ in cosmetics.)

So why not go ahead and try something different that will help our environment sparkle in the best possible way – plastic free!

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Melissa Sellen

Mel holds a Master of Environmental Education and has worked as an educator for Planet Ark and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, as well as State and Local Government. She has sat on the Executive of the Australian Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) NSW Chapter for the past 7 years and helped write the latest NSW Framework for Environmental Education. Mel is a mum to two lovely world-changers under 5 who help her put all her ideas into practice!

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